Bees as Superorganisms

Bees as Superorganisms

February 15, 2017
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The recent conversation of microbes and our symbiotic relationship with bacteria has sparked a new ideas for my interest with bees.

For some beekeepers, a bee colony is not to be seen as a collection of individual organisms but as one single organism.  Within a bee colony each bee has an individual tasks that lends to the health and success of the hive.  With in a bee colony there are bees to breed, nurse, build, guard, and forage.  Each bee with it’s specific task can be compared to an individual cell within an organism.  The set of collective bees given a specific task can be compared to an organ within an organism. Given this analogy, honey harvesting is a destructive practice, which requires beekeepers to break into the collective organism, disrupting internal functions, weakening organs, and threatening the survival of the hive.  After harvesting honey, beekeepers must wait weeks before they can harvest honey in order to allow the colony to reach a state of healthy equilibrium. Very clearly, the relationship bees have with other bees in their hive is is very different than the relationship we have with the microbes in our bodies.  If we were to make any comparison between the two systems, I would say that our bodies function more similarly to a hive not a bee (at this scale).   

Bees are dying all around the world from bacterial disease, viruses, and parasite attacks.  Parasitic mites contribute greatly to the spread of bacterial and viral diseases within and between hives.  Maintaining and keeping hives clean of mites is the only current way to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases and keep bee hives healthy.  

I would like to investigate the architectural form and materiality of the hive.  Is it possible to treat the hive as a living organism?  Could the walls and structure host the necessary microbes to stabilize or augment the affects of the disease causing bacteria or prevent parasite from inhabiting the colony?  Can a mycelium material host these types of microbes necessary for a healthy bee colony?  

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